SparkNotes Blog

How to Write a Classic Novel

Have you ever wanted to write a classic novel? If you are a time traveler from the 1800s and you haven’t had your big break yet, the answer is probably yes. But even if you AREN’T a time traveler, it would behoove you to know how to write an enduring literary classic that future students will eventually hate you for committing to paper.

To the best of my knowledge, here is how you write a classic novel.

1. Never stop using semicolons. The more semicolons, the better.

2. Nothing will get the plot moving quite like giving money to a character who doesn’t have any, or taking it away from a character who does.

3. Make sure every dinner, county ball, or promenade around the garden is just FRAUGHT with tension.

4. Always remember that the worst things in the world are 1) dying in a war, 2) being an illegitimate heir, or 3) remaining unmarried well into your 30s.

5. If you’re running out of ideas, try tossing in a dramatic illness, an elaborate misunderstanding, or a crazy relative who lives in the attic and has heretofore had the good grace to stay in the background.

6. It’s always good to take breaks and write multiple paragraphs about something that’s near and dear to your heart, like whale anatomy or the Battle of Waterloo. Don’t worry about making sense; this is your time. All you need is a good, lengthy opinion and a place in your novel to put it. (Readers will love this. It’s like taking a field trip away from the plot.)

7. Nobody in a classic novel ever coughs unless they are dying of tuberculosis, so keep that in mind.

8. If you have an innocent character who is pure of heart, kill them off midway through the story. How else are you supposed to tell the audience that goodness can’t endure in so cruel a world?

9. Bad weather is indicative of a character’s inner turmoil. Similarly, the state of someone’s house parallels the state of the family that lives in it. Happy families don’t have crumbling, dilapidated manors in the Yorkshire moorlands. They just don’t.

10. If you aren’t sure how to wrap things up, simply have everyone wind up being inexplicably related (and due to inherit a modest fortune just for good measure). Works every time.